On the leap day of 2020, 29th February, students and deans from five globally leading public policy schools came together at LSE’s brand new Centre Building for the annual Global Public Policy Network Conference in the heart of London. Our LSE School of Public Policy team ‘Uelcome’ was among 20 highly creative, determined and international teams representing the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, the FGV-EAESP in São Paulo and the Graduate School of Public Policy (GraSPP) at the University of Tokyo. Due to early stages of Covid-19 the GPPN conference was shortened to one day and unfortunately the School of Public Affairs at Sciences Po and the Hertie School of Governance were not able to attend. However, we are thankful for the great cooperation among all GPPN schools to make the 2020 conference work and especially the amazing organisation by LSE, to reshuffle the whole agenda on short-notice and most importantly ensure highest health and safety standards for all participants.
The conference was kicked-off with a breakfast, where students and professors could bond. Though the GPPN teams and schools are scattered around the planet and core curricula differ, it was a warming experience to see how much common interest and spirit we share – we all thrive to make the world a better place through better and inclusive policies. This determination was also reflected in this year’s conference theme – inequality. Just to name a few pressing inequality issues from education to health care, from climate change to food access, from energy to women rights, all teams mastered their topic and delivered a highly professional 3 minutes pitch in the first round of the policy competition. It was an educational but also cultural experience to better understand pressing inequality issues around the world.
The order of presentations was alphabetical by school and by project name. Due to our project name we were the ‘lucky’ ones to rock the stage after 19 strong pitches and hopefully win over the audience and jurors to make it along with six other teams to the second round. Our social innovation project, Uelcome, aims to promote equal opportunities for disadvantaged immigrants to access higher education in the United States, focusing on the Hispanic community. These underprivileged students are challenged by barriers such as lacking funding and information and, to top it off, they dare not even dream about pursuing higher education. With self-efficacy and the lack of a supportive environment as major barriers, Uelcome seeks to overcome these challenges by matching college aspirants with mentors from similar geographical or socioeconomic backgrounds. These aspirants will thus have role models to help guide them through the college application process on administrative, academic, and motivational levels.
This project is a highly personal one for two of our teammates. Yasmin Le, who did a semester abroad in the States, and Domenica Avila, an Ecuadorian whose relatives have been immigrants in the US, both have first-hand experience in witnessing the marginalization of the Hispanic community in the United States. With a keen eye trained on alleviating inequality in access to education, our team realized that the process of applying to college was only an academic but a highly emotional one. This shaped our decision to focus the proposal on creating a community of education, where we engage high schools, families, and peers to encourage them to apply to university. We made sure to inject the enthusiasm and passion we felt into our presentation. Through telling the story of a hopeful Hispanic immigrant student and the impact a mentorship has on her ambitions, we hoped to convince the panel of the importance of our proposal.
When our team was called out during the announcement of the first-round winners, we felt excited and honoured. During the lunch break the first-round winner teams had the chance to refine their 5 minutes pitch for the second round. All of us were under fire and wanted to use the remaining two hours most effectively. For our team, it was special as we switched the presenting team between the two rounds, to give the whole team the chance of the unique experience owning the stage and presenting our innovative solution to current and future policy leaders. In these moments we felt the strong unity in our team even more and we encouraged each other to deliver the best pitch we could. Such moments will last long in our memories and they make the GPPN conference an exciting experience.
During the second round of the competition you could feel the electrified atmosphere. Every team was delivering the best pitch they could. After this great spectacle you could feel the big relief among all the teams to have accomplished the mission and now it was in the hands of the jurors to nominate the winning teams. After an interesting lecture by Dr. Barbara Fasolo on the impact of risk behaviour on policies and a quick refreshment all participants were called back in for the winner announcements. Under a big cheer from all our SPP classmates and much more we were excited and grateful that the jurors awarded us with the prize for the best presentation. We applauded and cheered for all other teams and their awards. It was especially a pleasure that the overall winner was a fellow team from LSE SPP, being the first LSE GPPN history. The GPPN Conference 2020 was a highlight in all our academic experience. It was cultural, educational and social and we think we can speak for all of the participants that all of us made many new friends.
Now we were all ready for a drink and relocated to the famous Shaw Library in LSE’s Old Building. Everybody had a smile on their faces, we danced and sang together, shared personal stories, career aspirations – it was an amazing evening together and experiencing becoming part of a huge GPPN family. The night was ours, so we relocated to the city and shared dinner, more drinks and stories. The following day the only official agenda point was the boat party on the Thames. We relaxed on the cruise, enjoying the sunset in the heart of London, exchanged many contacts to distract us from our farewell and look forward to our future encounters around the world.